September 27, 2023 2:07 pm

Introducing Fiona Beazley, Coburn & Co. and WBSE Member

For the Whiskey Network’s third  anniversary edition and in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re excited to feature Fiona Beazley, Brand Ambassador for Coburn & Co. based in Australia. Fiona has been a Whiskey Bourbon and Scotch Enthusiasts aka “WBSE”  member since 2017. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Fiona [virtually] for the first time on a WBSE Zoom call during lockdown. While the rest of us were in our lounge chairs and sofas in the US enjoying our pours,  she would join in the whiskey chat and camaraderie while on her way to work. 

Today Fiona is a die-hard whiskey nerd and advocate but this wasn’t always the case. Born in the capital city of Canberra, Fiona moved to Sydney after about a decade. Fun fact from Fiona: Canberra is the only city in Australia that was truly “planned” to resolve the dispute between Melbourne and Sydney to be the capital and its origin comes from the Aboriginal word “Kamberra” that stands for “meeting place”. 

Australia’s legal drinking age is 18,  similar to Europe, as a child Fiona was treated to small tastes of spirits in her household of things like Peppermint Schnapps.  But her first experience with whiskey was definitely not love at first taste. The whiskey? Johnny Walker Red, which was in her words, “definitely not a sip and sit whiskey”. The experience of it was so off-putting that Fiona wouldn’t return to whiskey until almost two decades later. (For the record, today she would put in a highball and avoid overindulgence of it.)

Fiona’s hospitality career started with bartending. While she loved both learning about spirits and providing a great guest experience, this was in the age bartending was viewed as “something you did before or while going to uni” . It wasn’t considered a “career” by either the guests or even most of her co-workers. Witnessing the evolution of bartending of the last decade to what is now considered a “craft” along with the complexity of cocktails has been an “absolute joy” for her.  

At the time, however, frustrated with the environment, Fiona went ahead and earned her WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 certification in wines and constantly sought to improve her knowledge. She ended up working in a bottle shop where she was often passed over by customers seeking assistance from her male colleagues or outright told her that she probably didn’t have the wine knowledge they needed. 

Then one fateful day, Bowmore hosted a tasting and her boss Dave informed her that  she would need to sample the Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Immediately, her flashback of the negative olfactory Scotch memory kicked in and she blurted out a HAL 9000 Fiona version

Of  “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I  can’t do that.” (Kudos if you got that Space Odyssey reference.) He replied that she MUST taste it as part of her job and young Fiona is now figuratively and literally dragging her feet to this Bowmore Tasting featuring the 10,12,15, and 17 expressions. 

Picking up a dram of the 10, she cautiously sniffs and is pleasantly intrigued. Then comes the taste and she thought to herself, “Hmm…not bad, I can do this.” 

The rep, whose name she didn’t catch yet, is amused and tells her that this was his last whirlwind tour with Bowmore and that he was about to start a new project on some place called Islay, a new distillery. (Fiona: “At that point, I had no idea about Islay or where it was.”) 

The distillery? Bruichladdich. And the rep that ended up teaching Fiona about whiskey and starting her on her whiskey journey? The iconic Jim McEwan, profiled by fellow Whiskey Network writer, Mark Pruett in this article celebrating his journey

It would be the first but not the last time Fiona would meet Jim, who would continue to influence her journey through education and agreed to sign a few of her bottles,  though never giving up the secret sauce behind the Black Art expression. After this experience, Fiona had decided that she need to pursue the whiskey rabbit hole and establish herself as the go-to whiskey person at her shop. When a corporate decision downsized their whiskey inventory, Fiona ended up leaving and ]while her career would take a few twists and turns at various hospitality places, Fiona’s love for whiskey remained.

She then became “that person” as she termed it and personally started collecting whiskey. Over the span of her career she repped different whiskeys at events (Whisky Live, Oak Barrel, Whisky Show to name a few) and her professional knowledge was levied both by people looking to build their private collections and industry on tasting panels. 

Fiona had already been following the journey of Coburn & Co. when in 2022, an untenable work environment led her to post on social media that she was looking for another opportunity. Coburn & Co. immediately responded and while her role had yet to be determined, it was clear that they wanted her to be a part of building their brand. 

Coburn & Co. was borne out of whiskey love from Mark Coburn who famously told his family that “he wanted to be able to drink his own 20-year-old Coburns Whisky by the time he turned 70”.  Whiskey love for Mark, however, didn’t originate from simply tasting the spirit itself as it did for Fiona, but more so from the actual process of distillation. A self-proclaimed “steam engine enthusiast” who appreciates flavors, he realized that combining both passions could be realized with through whiskey distillation.

In 2016 he followed his dream in the form of establishing Coburn & Co.’s Station Lane distillery in his home area of  the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Sitting over 700 meters above sea level, it lays claim to not only having its own peat bog (the only Australian distillery to do so), available water has been deemed Michelin worthy by an accredited Water Sommelier. (Yes, this is a thing.) Their temperature range can go from 7 to almost 70 degrees (Fahrenheit) and all four seasons are represented. 

1100 barrels are stored in two separate warehouses. One exposes the casks to all the elements and another remains consistent. And while Fiona is now living her whiskey dream of having to sample from them, she admits that there are days her palate has a better range so her barrel inventory tasting is four at a minimum and twenty at a maximum. Fiona finds that the best time for tasting is generally two hours after breakfast and then a four-hour gap. She joked that when quoting tasting notes, olfactory memory is often influenced by culture; as an example, she compared an American reference to Captain Crunch vs. Australian lemon myrtle.

When not tasting from the barrel, Fiona hosts multiple tasting events, which are key to introducing people to Coburn & Co. and helping to promote their barrel investment program since you can’t actually buy a bottle in a retail store. (Yup, you read that right.) 

As they look to get their stills up and running, the Australian spirit aging onsite has been sourced and Fiona has stated that while they remain committed to their own distillation (that would include the use of  their peat bog), another goal is to become the Australian version of MGP (Midwest Grain products) and end up providing their own distillate and whiskey to others. 

Meanwhile, Fiona’s picks earned multiple awards at the 2022 Royal Australian Spirit Awards that features a blind tasting scenario that included Best Cask Strength Whisky. She’s extremely proud of not only the work she’s doing there but to also help shape the Australian Whisky market. (Check out our Barrel Report article on the Australian Whisky market in general.)

Learn more by checking the Coburn & Co. site or joining the WBSE* group on Facebook and reaching out to Fiona directly.

Join us next month as we follow up with Elizabeth McCall of Woodford Reserve who was recently promoted to Master Distiller!

*(If you’re new to the Women in Whiskey column and/or The Whiskey Network, welcome! Whiskey Networkmagazine was created from the shared love of whiskey from the Facebook WBSE group and we invite you to join our whiskey chat amongst almost 48,000 whiskey lovers from around the world.)

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."

George Bernard Shaw

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.”

James Joyce

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